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Saturday 4 November 1916 - Market gardeners and exemptions

Category World War I: Labour issues/Military Tribunals
The Evesham Journal
Transcription of article


In its “Exemption Scandal” article on Thursday, the “Daily Mail” announced that the military authorities are “going to purge Worcester and the peaceful – the too peaceful – Vale of Evesham, and they have got their work cut out.” The recruiting authorities, we are told are setting about the national business “with a new and exceedingly narrow-toothed comb.” What is in store for the peaceful – “the too peaceful vale” – we do not know; but there certainly are some men about whom everybody would be glad to see caught by the new comb. One of the great difficulties the military authorities and the Tribunals have to face is the fact that in the Vale of Evesham a very large number of men are working on the land, producing foodstuffs. Just at the present time the crop that looms so largely before the Tribunals is “sprouts.” Mr Cholmondeley has come to the conclusion that the whole countryside must be green with “sprouts,” and we are sure he must be sick to death of them, just as he had a surfeit of asparagus in the early summer.


It is hard for the Tribunal to send into the army men whose capital is invested in a few acres of ground, off which they get a fairly good living. The men say that if they go on service their land will become foul and their capital will be lost. What are the Tribunals to do? At Wednesday’s meeting of the Evesham Rural Tribunal, Mr Cholmondeley suggested a way out of the difficulty, and he asked the opinion of the members upon it. Briefly, it is that in every parish or other suitable area there should be formed a small committee of practical gardeners, men whom everybody could trust, who would undertake to look after the ground of the men called to the army, and who would at any rate keep it clean, even if they did not raise valuable vegetable crops. Mr Cholmondeley indeed suggested that wheat, which the country badly needs, should be grown on some holdings.


The difficulty of course lies in the fact that labour is so scarce as to be almost unprocurable. Here comes in the second part of Mr Cholmondeley’s suggestion. It is that Germans who are prisoners of war in this country should be employed on the land. Why not? British, French, Belgian, and Russian are prisoners of war in Germany have to work, and why should not the Germans we have captured and interned earn their salt, even if they do have their bread and cheese for nothing? Obviously it would not be economical to employ them in ones or twos, here and there, because the expense of guarding them would be too great; but Mr Cholmondeley’s proposal is that they should work in gangs of a number to be determined by the War Office, so that few guards could look after a number of men. When the work on one holding was finished, the gang would move off to another. The Germans would have to be paid, at the rate, say, of 10s. per week.


The Evesham Rural Tribunal did not think Mr Cholmondeley’s scheme a practicable one, and it must be admitted that there are difficulties in the way of carrying it out, but are these difficulties insuperable? Of one thing Mr Cholmondeley may rest assured, and that is that his proposal will never come to anything unless there is some outside force to drive it along. It must be  borne in mind that comparatively few of these gardeners who are now  getting exemptions because they occupy four or five acres of land are longing with all the ardour of a passionate martial nature to join the army, and are only holding back from still more patriotic motives in the way of food production. Most of the applicants plainly tell the Tribunals that they ask for exemption because they do not want to lose money. Men like these are not likely to give Mr Cholmondeley’s scheme an enthusiastic welcome.


But if the authorities compel these men to go into the army, willy nilly, then they will be only too glad to have their land cultivated or kept clean in the way Mr Cholmondeley suggests, and difficulties which now appear insuperable will melt away like ice in the sun. We think Mr Cholmondeley’s scheme could be carried out, if somebody possessing standing and authority, such for instance as the Board of Agriculture, were to organise it properly, and – and this is highly important  - leave the carrying out  of it to some man whom the people in the Vale can trust. If it were to be left in the hands of typical Government officials, it would almost certainly be a failure.